Background: Use of e-mail among patients and physicians is limited by reservations over issues such as medicolegal aspects, reimbursement, and time-management. Objective: Our purpose was to identify the content of patient-related e-mails in an academic dermatology practice and determine whether clinical questions could be answered by e-mail. Methods: The first 100 e-mails received each year that related to patients from January 1, 2000 to June 1, 2005 (plus any messages received in e-mail threads started in the original 100) were studied (N = 614). E-mails were sent by patients, potential patients, or physicians in reference to a patient. E-mails were divided into 8 categories on the basis of content. E-mails were subdivided as relating to new (patients who had never been seen in-person) or established patients. All clinical questions were categorized as to whether they were answered by e-mail. The average number of e-mails received per e-mail thread was tallied. Results: E-mails were distributed as follows: clinical question from a physician (20%), clinical question from a patient (17%), appointment request (18%), request for referral to another physician (7%), prescription refill (3%), research inquiry (2%), thank-you correspondence (31%), other (17%). Percentages do not equal 100 because some e-mails contained more than one subject. Clinical questions were more likely to be answered when posed by physicians (100%) than patients (70%; P = .001), and when from established (79%) versus new patients (60%; P = .02). There were fewer e-mails per thread for queries from physicians (1.6 messages received) versus patients (2.2; P < .001) and for established (1.6) versus new patients (2.2; P < .001). Limitations: This study was limited to the experience of one dermatologist in an academic setting. Conclusion: E-mail broadens communication between patients and their dermatologist. E-mail may facilitate consultation with other physicians and management of patients with chronic disease. "Thank-you" responses engage a substantial amount of e-mail resources.
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